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Wed, 13 Dec 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Giving is better: Helping others uniquely benefits mental and physical health

helping hand
Social support has well-known benefits for physical and mental health. But giving support -- rather than receiving it -- may have unique positive effects on key brain areas involved in stress and reward responses, suggests a study in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, the official journal of the American Psychosomatic Society. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

"These results add to an emerging literature suggesting that support giving is an overlooked contributor to how social support can benefit health," according to the report. The lead researchers were Tristen Inagaki, PhD, of University Pittsburgh and Naomi Eisenberger, PhD, of University of California, Los Angeles.



Combining aerobic exercise with meditation can reduce depression & heal the brain

© KieferPix/Shutterstock
A new study from Rutgers University reports that meditation and aerobic exercise done consecutively can help reduce depression, rumination, and overwhelming negative thoughts. The combination of mental and physical (MAP) training through focused meditation and aerobic exercise is a relatively new concept and clinical intervention for major depressive disorder (MDD).

Depression is estimated to affect approximately 20 percent of the population at some point in their lives. Among other symptoms, the inability to focus your attention in positive ways is a hallmark of depression. Currently, the most common treatment for depression is psychotropic medications and talk therapy.

The researchers at Rutgers wanted to explore the neuroscience behind alternatives to current treatments that would allow individuals to acquire new cognitive skills so they could bounce back more quickly from stressful life events. The team found that learning how-to focus attention through meditation combined with the neurobiological benefits of aerobic exercise created a powerful double whammy for fighting depression.

Comment: Further reading: Overcome depression using your mind


Horses can recognize human emotions, study shows

© Wikipedia
Two young Nokota mares.
For the first time horses have been shown to be able to distinguish between angry and happy human facial expressions.

Psychologists studied how 28 horses reacted to seeing photographs of positive versus negative human facial expressions. When viewing angry faces, horses looked more with their left eye, a behavior associated with perceiving negative stimuli. Their heart rate also increased more quickly and they showed more stress-related behaviors. The study, published today (10 February) in Biology Letters, concludes that this response indicates that the horses had a functionally relevant understanding of the angry faces they were seeing. The effect of facial expressions on heart rate has not been seen before in interactions between animals and humans.


Pride goeth before a fall: How narcissistic tendencies lead us into disaster

© Unknown
Believing that no harm can come your way, no matter what, can lead you to become a victim of the myth of invincibility. There is a reason for saying that "pride goeth before a fall," and that excessive pride or hubris, commonly regarded as a tragic flaw, will lead to your own undoing. Once you've convinced yourself that you're invincible, you fail to see yourself in an accurate or realistic light. Whatever shortcomings you've avoided coming to grips can then come back to haunt you and if they're serious enough, can lead to your downfall.

We see plenty of examples in the media of celebrities and politicians who think they can do no harm. Most recently, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, given the "Superman" designation prior to Super Bowl 50, failed to live up to expectations when the big game came along. Although his team certainly would have gone into that game well-prepared and ready, who knows how much his head, and focus, was turned by the accolades foisted upon him by the media?

Anyone who goes into a competitive situation convinced of his or her own invincibility is liable to suffer a similar fate. Once you see yourself as the inevitable hero or victor, you'll fail to prepare yourself for the reality of what might end up being a very challenging situation. Imagine that you're going into a high-pressure meeting where you need to talk your boss into agreeing to a request or you need to beat out a coworker looking for the same plum outcome. Instead of methodically going through in your mind the rationale of your approach, you gloss over the details, thinking only of how great it will feel to win. When your boss asks for those details, you'll be stumped, and your competitor will carry the day.


Empathy borne of pain and suffering

I recently underwent a relatively minor - but surprisingly painful - outpatient surgical procedure. I spent the next two days crashed out at my parents house in a haze of Percocet, Zofran, and Ibuprofen. On day three I stopped the narcotics, preparing myself to return to work.

But the pain didn't stop.

I spent day three on the couch, certain that once I got past 72-hours post-op, the swelling would subside and the pain would cease.

But the pain didn't stop.

Days four and five were a complete loss. The incision site, near the base of my tailbone, ached with any movement; I missed two days of work because I couldn't walk without feeling as though someone was stabbing my spine. I couldn't sit upright in a chair without a wave of pain crashing over me with such strength that it made me nauseous.

So I spent those days crashed out on my own couch, still unwilling to take narcotics, curled up with Aleve and a heating pad, guilt-ridden about missing work and generally feeling sorry for myself.

Comment: How awful for human beings that we are so often indifferent to the sufferings of others until we have a visceral experience and knowledge of what it's like to be in another person's shoes.


PTSD is as old as the hills

ptsd war

Posttraumatic stress disorder wasn't recognized by psychiatrists until 1980. But soldiers who lived thousands of years ago can give us a deeper understanding of psychological trauma.
There is a story in my family of my grandfather's homecoming from the Korean War. His father, a medic in the German army in World War I, took him into his study. "You saw horrible things over there," he told his son. "But you have to forget them. When you leave this room, you just don't think about it anymore."

I can't say whether my grandfather took this advice, but he kept his memories to himself; my mother didn't know he was a Korean war vet until well into her teen years. Still, whatever he saw in Korea didn't go away. Two years ago, when he was seriously ill in the hospital, my grandfather woke up in tears. Why, he asked my dumbfounded mother, had he lived through the war when all of his buddies had died?

I was stacking frozen corpses like cordwood, he said. Was there a reason I was spared?

Comment: PTSD in war veterans = a normal psychological reaction of people with conscience to being cannon fodder in senseless wars.


One simple way to better understand how you use your time

woman sun
© Pexels.com
Every so often after finishing a book we may set it down, mentally checking off an outstanding item we've meant to complete. But sometimes our mind continues to process, letting the lessons we've learned percolate long after we've set a title back into our bookshelves or libraries. I had this particular experience upon finishing Lynn Grodzki's Building Your Ideal Private Practice. Interestingly, despite her countless helpful ideas, tips and tricks for business, it wasn't all the practical tools that stuck with me. It was one concept in the final chapter of the book (and discussed only briefly) that made an immense impact on me. Grodzki discussed looking at how our time is organized using 3 simple descriptors: work, spirit, and buffer.

She described work as things that bring you joy and money. Spirit time was something that would rejuvenate your soul, and buffer was everything else. Simple enough. She shared learning about the concept from her coach and using this framework to categorize her own time. She saw that as a busy private practitioner, while her work brought her money, it did not always translate to joy. Weekends involved running errands, extra paperwork, and maybe dinner out and a movie, but not enough to fully re-energize her. As a result, her weeks on end were lots and lots of buffer time.

Comment: Further reading:
We spend a lot of energy looking for shortcuts to save time, and sure, those shortcuts add up. But when I look back, my biggest time regrets aren't spending too much time on Twitter or mismanaging my daily tasks. Those are bad habits, but there are bigger, more systematic time wasters that have really gotten in the way. Fixing these will free up a massive amount of time and energy.

Regrets of the older and wiser: Time wasted on things that don't matter in the long run

2 + 2 = 4

What if schools taught kindness? Lessons from a "kindness curriculum"

toddle kindness
Walking to class one day, one of us (Laura) saw a young student crying and waiting for his mother to arrive—he had split his chin while playing. When Laura got to class, the other students were very upset and afraid for their friend, full of questions about what would happen to him. Laura decided to ask the class how they could help him.

"Caring practice!" exclaimed one of the children—and they all sat in a circle offering support and well wishes. The children immediately calmed and they continued with their lesson.

This is what's possible when kids learn to be kind at school.

Comment: Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts
Why do people do good things? Is kindness hardwired into the brain, or does this tendency arise via experience? Dacher Keltner, director of the Social Interaction Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, investigates these questions from multiple angles and often generates results that are both surprising and challenging. In his recent book, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (W. W. Norton, 2009), Keltner weaves together scientific findings with personal narrative to uncover human emotion's innate power to connect people with one another, which he argues is the path to living the good life.

DACHER KELTNER: "Born to be good" means that our mammalian and hominid evolution has crafted a species - us - with remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice, which are vital to the classic tasks of evolution - survival, gene replication and smoothly functioning groups. These tendencies are felt in the wonderful realm of emotion - feelings such as compassion, gratitude, awe, embarrassment and mirth. Recent studies have revealed that our capacity for caring, play, reverence and modesty is built into our brains, bodies, genes and social practices.

Snakes in Suits

Toxic managers: In corporate culture, workplace bullies use subtle tactics to climb the ladder

Toxic workplace
© .lakeforestmba.edu
If you think your boss is out to get you, but can't point to any obvious incidents of abuse, you may not be paranoid after all. You may, in fact, be in hot water, and the boss is just being stealthy when alienating and antagonizing you. Most managers — even the bad ones — appreciate the importance of maintaining the facade of professionalism at the workplace, so some have become increasingly skilled at being subtle while abusing employees.

These passive-aggressive managers are often highly valued in the modern workplace because many corporations believe they help weed out undesirable employees. Some corporations even create cultures that foster leadership that is quietly ruthless and devious. Research by the University of Buffalo School of Management finds that it actually pays to be a workplace bully. Those who engage in harassment typically receive excellent reviews from their own supervisors and are exceptional at climbing the corporate ladder.

Comment: Considering the fact that Psychopaths 'flourish' at top of the corporate ladder. The reader might want to read more about psychopaths in the work place:


How your language shapes your brain and personality

Learning new Language
© Prevent Disease
The language you are introduced to affects the structure of your brain, influences how you see the world and who you are. But what if you speak two languages?

Can learning a language rewire your brain?

As our species evolved parts of our brain expanded, resulting in more computing power for language. It's what makes us hard-wired for communication. What is perhaps more surprising is how language can shape our brains throughout our lives.

Most of the evidence for this comes from studies of people who are bilingual. Being bilingual offers widespread benefits across a range of complex cognitive tasks and it comes from distinct areas of the brain.

Brain scan studies show that switching between two languages triggers different patterns of brain activity compared with speaking in one language, particularly in the prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain, at the very front of our skulls, is involved in organising and acting on information, including using working memory, reasoning and planning. Other studies show that bilinguals are faster at getting to grips with a new language.

Quadrilinguist Arturo Hernandez, director of the Laboratory for the Neural Bases of Bilingualism at the University of Houston in Texas, says these differences could reflect differences in the architecture of bilingual brains. In other words, learning another language could change how your brain is wired. "It would make sense, if you have had this very different linguistic experience, to see some sort of stable, long-lasting effect," Hernandez says.

It may also make the brain more resilient. Ellen Bialystok at York University in Toronto, Canada, has found that lifelong bilinguals tend to be diagnosed with dementia on average 4.5 years later than monolinguals, and have more white matter, including in their prefrontal cortex. White matter is made of nerve fibres that connect different brain regions, shuttling information back and forth between them. So boosting language skills appears to build more connected brains -- although Bialystok cautions that this still needs to be confirmed.

More evidence for the benefits of second languages came last year from a study of 608 people who had had a stroke. Thomas Bak of the University of Edinburgh, UK, found that of the bilinguals among them, 40 per cent recovered full function, compared with only 20 per cent of monolinguals. Bak speculates that the mental gymnastics involved in speaking several languages could build extra connections that improve function and help cope with damage. "The idea is that if you have a lot of mental exercise, your brain is trained and can compensate better," says Bak.

It is not certain how languages of different and similar linguistic structures are represented. Many studies have found evidence that all the languages that we acquire in the course of our life are represented in one area of the brain. However, other studies have found evidence that a second language is dissociated from the representation of a mother tongue.